Kevin Chapman is certainly becoming a familiar face in Hollywood these days. He has spent the past decade developing an incredible body of work which runs the gambit work from critically acclaimed, big budget films such as “Ladder 49” and “Mystic River,” to cult film favorites like “The Boondocks Saints” and “Black Dynamite” to a host of well received television series, such as “Cold Case,” “Brotherhood” and “Rescue Me.” It is his dedication to his craft and incomparable work ethic that has continued to garner the attention of the powers that be in the entertainment industry. He is living proof that hard work and persistence pay off as his journey has taken him from an ordinary guy working for The City of Boston to locations around the globe where he has starred alongside legends of the silver screen. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Kevin Chapman to discuss how he got his start in the entertainment industry, the amazing projects that he has been a part of and his latest role as part of an ensemble cast for CBS’ ‘Person of Interest’.
A career onscreen is not what you originally sought out. What can you tell us about how you got started on your journey in the entertainment industry?
I had been working in a different capacity for a director by the name of Ted Demme (“Who’s The Man,” “Beautiful Girls,” “The Ref,” “Blow”), who has since passed away. I was working with him and Denis Leary on a movie called “Monument Ave.” Teddy kept looking at me, kinda wild eyed, and one day he said, “Can you act?” I said, “I think I am intelligent enough to.” So, he gave me a script and I went right home and read it. I had lunch with him and Denis the next day and told them my interpretation of the character that they were interested in having me play. Ted said, “Can you get three weeks off from work? I’d like for you to play this guy.” I was petrified! I didn’t really have any idea of the process of filmmaking. I got through that and it was such a pleasant experience that, when another film came to town, I auditioned and got a small part in “The Cider House Rules” and then “In The Bedroom.” One day I said to myself, “I can do this!” and I quit my job at The City of Boston on a Tuesday and moved to Los Angeles on a Saturday! I studied with a lot of acting coaches and once I got the part in “Mystic River,” that was the thing that kinda kicked the door open for me!
That’s great. It definitely seems to be panning out for you!
It is one of those things that, when I have it all figured out, maybe I will do something else! The process of bringing someones words off of a page and bringing them to life is something that I find extremely fascinating. Placing some level of emotion behind the words that are on a page, you can really give different interpretations or different meanings to what is written. I have worked with some amazing filmmakers and amazingly talented people on television. It has truly been a great experience.
I am curious to know some of the influences who helped shape the actor we see today both on-screen and off?
I have learned a lot from many different actors. I mean, obviously, when I got into this business, I just wanted to meet a guy like Sean Penn. I never thought I would appear in movies with him, ya know?! It is really hard to single out any one individual, just because I have learned so much along the way. I remember when I was on the set of “Mystic River,” I was so excited to meet Clint Eastwood. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to tell him how great he was, I wanted to get some advice from him on acting. I remember I walked up to him one day on set and he said [in Clint Eastwood voice] “Welcome aboard, kid!” After I was a little more comfortable with him, I said, “Could you give me some advice?” and he said, “Listen” and just walked away. It was the most simple advice that I had ever received in my life but that is what acting is — responding to something that is said to you. It so simple! [laughs] But when he said it, it hit me like a ton of bricks! Like I said, it has been great. I have worked with some of the greats! I worked with Al Pacino, John Travolta, Joaquin Phoenix, Dennis Quaid, Kevin Bacon — guys with huge, huge careers and I have learned a little something from each one of them along the way.
Your latest project is CBS’s “Person of Interest.” What can you tell us about your character, for those unfamiliar?
On “Person of Interest,” I play Detective Lionel Fusco, who is a detective in the NYPD. In the pilot episode, you will see that Lionel isn’t a very nice man! [laughs] Lionel is, how can we put it, on the dark side of things! He is a corrupt cop involved with a whole group of corrupt cops who are taking down drug dealers and stealing their money, along with many other things that are unethical and on the wrong side of the law. What happens is that he discovers that Reese, played by Jim Caviezel, had received some information on a meeting and was spying on a meeting that he shouldn’t have been spying on. Lionel was instructed to take Reese out to Oyster Bay and dispose of him. On that journey, Reese is able to turn the tables on Lionel. Before Reese decides to kill Lionel, he looks at him and says, “I see the good in you. If you ever hurt anybody again, I will be the first one to kill you. I am going to allow you to live. In return, you have to give me the information from inside the police department that will help me on my journey that will help me apprehend those involved and prevent crimes from happening.” That is pretty much how Lionel gets hooked in. In the first couple of episodes he is kinda trying to figure out how to shake Reese but as the storyline progresses, Lionel realizes that the work that Reese, and later on when he meets Finch, is something that is good. As the storyline progresses, you can see Lionel turn more to the light side of things. There is one particular episode where there is a small child missing and Reese is explaining this to Lionel and he says, “What happened?” Reese responds with, “What do you care? You’re corrupt.” Lionel says, “I am still a cop and it’s a kid.” I think that is a big turning moment for Lionel Fusco. From that moment on, you can see that he is no longer doing this work for Reese because he is forced to but he is doing it because it is the right thing.
There are a lot of interesting aspects to this project from the cast, to the writers, to the characters themselves. What attracted you to this role?
It is a redeemable character and also when I look at characters, I look for truth. If you notice my body of work, I never play something so far off the trail that a viewer would be sitting at home and say, “Oh, come on!” Whenever I pursue a job, I try to pursue something that rings true, ya know? For me, Lionel rings true. I could see the truth in this guy. I think the best characters to play are the ones with this sense of duality, the type where you don’t know whether they are right or wrong, and it is left up to the viewer to decide whether he is a good guy or a bad guy. And of course the redemption side of the character is appealing to me as an artist.
I am really excited about the response that we have received for “Person of Interest.” It is fantastic, we have a great team in front of and behind the camera! What excites me so much about the show is that if you take Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Taraji P. Henson and myself and line us up shoulder to shoulder and look at us — talk about four very different people! When I saw the cast, I was like, “Wow! This is just great!” because a lot of the television that you see now is very plain, the people all look the same, ya know? Everyone has hair gel, six-pack abs and is incredibly sexy. For me, it just doesn’t ring true. The cast that we have for “Person of Interest,” you look at and think, “Yeah, I can see that.” Having Jonathan Nolan, basically running the show, is truly amazing. He wrote the last two “Batman” movies, “Momento,” which was a phenomenal film, and “The Prestige.” He is a incredibly, incredibly talented individual. You also have JJ Abrams godfathering everything and making sure it all goes the way that it is supposed to and Greg Plageman is the show runner with an incredibly talented writing staff. In my opinion, this show, “Person Of Interest,” is really something special.
You guys have been shooting in New York. What has that experience been like for you?
Oh, New York is unbelievable! I shot a seven episode arc for “Rescue Me” but all of that stuff was kinda controlled in a contained environment. We weren’t out on the streets, we were always in an apartment or the hospital, always a controlled environment. Jim Caviezel and I were shooting on Lexington Avenue one day. We were literally nose to nose having a conversation but the camera was across the street, so people couldn’t see it. As we are doing our lines, a little old lady came down the street and literally walked right inbetween us! [laughs] And just kept right on going! I mean, there was maybe 12 inches of space between Jim and I! [laughs] That is how close we were standing! It was unbelievable! [laughs] There was another one where Michael Emerson and I were out in Brighton Beach. There is a scene where my character is getting a hot dog and he approaches me and we continue to have a conversation as we move down the street. The train was running overhead and we do the scene. I get the hot dog, he comes up behind me and we stroll down the street. In a couple takes, the train would pull up and people would come pouring out into the station. A couple of times, I literally had to elbow people to get out of my way so that I could stay next to him and the camera could catch us coming down the street. It was pretty funny!
What has been the biggest challenge for you on this project as an actor?
I don’t know if it is a challenge per se, but what I like to do, the more I play characters, is to take the journey with them. That is the biggest thing. I can only speak for myself, but when you play a character that you have all figured out, I find that to be boring. What is great about Lionel and what I think is one of the most challenging things, is that we have a great writing staff and when they send out the script, you are never really sure where your character is going to go in the next episode. You haven’t seen the script for the following episode. You try to bring truth to what they are sending you and I think the challenge in that is not knowing where the journey goes from there after that last page in the episode that you are currently shooting. That is pretty much how I view things.
You have played a diverse range of characters in your career. Do you have a role you consider your personal favorite?
I can’t really say that I have a favorite role but my favorite experiences were probably “Mystic River” and “Ladder 49.” “Mystic River” was a remarkably successful film with an iconic director and an iconic cast, two of my co-stars in the film won Academy Awards that year. Sean [Penn] won for Best Actor and Tim Robbins won for Best Supporting Actor. That film was one of my favorite experiences just because we all spent so much time together. We shot all day and we hung out all night. We did table reads on our own and it was a remarkable learning experience for me to be around more than 200 years of filmmaking in a social setting. I mean, I was hanging around with Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney and sometimes Clint [Eastwood] would come out with us as well. Look at that group of people and imagine sitting down with them for dinners and hearing them talk about when they did this film or that film or hear Tim talk about when he directed this movie or Sean discussing his films, it was unbelievable, an amazing experience. “Ladder 49” was great as well. We actually went through the entire Baltimore Fire Academy during the day and rode with different engines to experience it first hand. I rode with Engine 33 at night. So, I would go to the Academy all day and then go to the firehouse at night and stay there. We would have dinner and talk to the guys and really were able to experience the world of firefighting first hand.
Is there a role or genre you haven’t tackled yet you would like to take a stab at in the future?
I have done some comedy in the past and I did some episodes of “Rescue Me” and a film called “Black Dynamite.” I guess I would kinda like to lighten things up a little bit and maybe take on some more comedy stuff. That really interests me.
You have been part of two very unique films that have become cult classics, “Boondock Saints” and, as you mentioned, “Black Dynamite.” Did you have any idea starting out these films would take on a life of their own?
“Boondock,” not so much, but “Black Dynamite,” how I got that was I was at the gym and Michael Jai White approached me. He came up to me and said, “Hey, I have been a big fan of your work. I am making this movie and I really would like for you to play this character.” So, I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, here is my address. Drop the script by and I will take a look.” I come home from the gym and Michael Jai White is sitting in my driveway with the script! [laughs] I read the first 15 pages and I ran to the phone to call him at his house. I said, “I’m in!” That was a very, very funny movie! “Boondock Saints” was one of those things, much like “Monument Ave.” I had met Troy Duffy, the director, and Chris Brinker, the producer, when I was working for The City of Boston. I was spending time with them when one day Troy Duffy said, “There is a character in the movie named Chappy.” That is my nickname. He said to me, “I think it is destiny for you to play Chappy in this movie!” So, I said, “Yeah! OK! Great!” Unfortunately, they didn’t end up shooting the movie in Boston, they shot it in Toronto for budget reasons. I went up to Toronto to play the part. Chris Brinker, who produced “Boondock Saints,” and I have since produced a movie together called “Lonely Street” with Jay Mohr, Robert Patrick, Joe Mantegna, Nikki Cox, Ernie Hudson and Katt Williams. It was a small little movie we made but it was a great experience and, since that outing, Chris has invited me to produce another movie with him which we are in the process of doing right now.
That is great. Can you tell us a little bit about that film?
Yeah, the film is called “Whiskey B” and it is about a cop who infiltrates the hierarchy of the Aryan Brotherhood. By infiltrating the organization, he pretty much brings it down.
Is producing something you see yourself doing even more in the future?
Yeah, I think so! I honestly believe that producing that first film has really helped me with my acting. I see things through a different set of eyes now. Putting a film or a television show together is kinda like having a sports team. You have the quarterback who is the star of the team and gets all of the accolades, but it doesn’t mean that the guard who is blocking for him isn’t as important as that quarterback, ya know? So, it is kinda like putting together a sports team, that is the best way to equate it. But yeah, it is definitely something that I can see myself doing more of.
I know you have to run but I thank you for your time today! We are looking forward to your future projects and wish you the best of luck, Kevin!
Thanks so much! I really appreciate your time! Talk to you soon!